Healing through Yoga: Grounding in Times of Uncertainty
Written by Rosa Lia.
When I first came to yoga at 15, I don't think I'd ever seen any photos of what it was supposed to look like. But by the end of the first class, I knew I'd found something that I needed more of in my life.
Back in 2005, I don't remember much talk of wellbeing, anxiety or taking care of your mental health. I'd heard of stress and I think that's probably what I continually felt, amidst my parent's break up, the pressure of exams that I felt I always needed to get perfect results in, and trying to figure out who I was as a teen. On my yoga mat, at the end of savasana, was one of the few places that stress couldn't reach me.
It took some breaks in my practice to realise how much I needed it. That first year of uni, being away from home, navigating a long distance relationship and not always sleeping or eating properly, I had some really low lows. The kinds where I just couldn't figure out why I kept crying or why I was so often on edge and just generally felt very unsteady.
Re-finding yoga classes, along with new friends and solo travel, was what helped me land back in the feeling of here I am and it's all going to work out.
Travel became a way to reshape myself by letting go of the things I knew. Somewhere I felt that I didn't want to go straight into trying to build a career or settling into one place. There was too much I wasn't comfortable with - in myself and in the world.
I'd been stuck in a loop of continual comparison, comparing grades and exercise routines and competing with friends for guys that we liked. I also felt so frustrated with everything that seemed messed up in the world and still is - how we treat each other and this planet.
Being in other countries reminded me that we don't need as much as we think we do. Traveling with a tiny backpack for months made me feel lighter on the inside too. It was freeing but it was also dizzying. When I came across a yoga class in another country, it gave me this feeling of home.
Jerusalem was where my yoga practice really took roots. When everything outside was in chaos as rocket sirens sounded and friends went off to fight in combat, my mat held me. After a break up and a week of dating different characters I wasn't that into, my mat was maybe the first time that I felt I could cry and it was releasing, clearing me out, rather than shaking me up and flooding me. Lying in savasana or resting in child's pose, I could let tears softly fall while feeling steadied by the earth. The teacher's words about the heart and kindness were a warm blanket I could wrap around the image of my ex, instead of the clouded thoughts I'd usually have.
In a backdrop so full of violence where it felt difficult to make any meaningful change (I was volunteering with NGOs) a yoga class seemed like a tiny but tangible version of what I was yearning for - the connection, the heart centered-ness, the way people left more peaceful.
So I decided to learn more; I went to India and then began to teach. But still I felt this pull, this need to travel. There was something I wanted to heal, something to do with my heart, something to do with a string of relationships that had felt unsteady and unsatisfying. I wanted to meet someone I could be with in a longer, more committed way, and yet I always seemed to end up in long distance relationships or with men who were on the fence.
In wanting to find someone I could love more fully, I knew there were also parts of myself I had to meet. Maybe even parts of myself that I didn't love.
My yoga mat and I went to Mexico and travelled down to Brazil. Those Latin countries have always felt so warm, celebratory and heart centred to me. Whereas India makes me visualise meditating on a mountain top, Latin America makes me think of dancing with a group of good friends. It takes both sometimes.
So my mat was my little piece of land that I could carry with me, whenever I couldn't just flow on the sand. Again and again and again, it was somewhere I could come back to myself, listen to what was happening in my body, let myself smile, cry, dance, and rest.
Many people came and left. It's hard to say goodbye, even when, or especially when, you're doing it every day. But my mat was always there.
One time after taking a plant medicine (peyote) that had left me feeling wide open, I went to a yoga conference in Mexico City. I was feeling so sensitive and tender that when the Tibetan Yoga Master was guiding us into the softness of our hearts, opening, opening the door, I just couldn't do it. My eyes opened and I looked outside.
The next yoga class was based in Andean shamanism, themed around the directions and animals while someone was playing drums. There, as we moved and breathed and I held plank, I felt safe enough to come back into my heart. Feeling strong helped me feel I could open.
I opened and closed as different relationships passed through. I went back to India and built a meditation practice and an altar with crystals, flowers and statues of Tara and Ganesha. I went back to Mexico and briefly set up a Holistic Centre in a place with cheap rent on the coast, before leaving it all to go to Mexico City with a Mexican man I had met.
Then the pandemic hit and all the open borders closed. I felt so strongly how lucky I was to have passed through so many but also a deep sadness that maybe this was the end of all that flight. It wasn't that I felt rooted in one place, it was more like being frozen in a place where I couldn't root.
Everything felt so closed in, as I knew I couldn't travel or fly home, as I'd emptied the building I'd set up as a Holistic Centre, as I spent my days in someone else's family where I didn't really feel I belonged.
That was a dark place. The kind of mental place where my thoughts felt like these big scary beings I couldn't contain and their main message was you're worthless, you have no reason to be here and nothing to offer. So I spent a lot of time in the bedroom that didn't even have a bed, on the floor, not feeling any pull to get up and do anything, including eat sometimes. Being still felt intensely boring but like the place I was stuck.
Even when the sun was out, it was like I carried my own personal mist that didn't let it in.
As someone who often picks up on other people's feelings, I wonder if this also had something to do with the man in the spare room. I didn't even realise he lived there at first. Then I would see him sometimes when everyone else was out. There was a smell coming from his room that from glimpses seemed to be filled with clutter and old food.
In those days, I couldn't really meditate. Being still with my thoughts was like sitting still to take punches. So instead I did more breathwork and more movement, strong movement to help me feel strong in myself.
Yoga alone has not been enough to help me resteady myself and arrive at a place of feeling rooted. There are so many miracle solutions and secret tips out there but I don't believe there is really a fast cut to feeling connected to yourself. I think it takes a mix of so many forms of self care; for me that's included nature, counselling, meditation, yoga, cycling, plant medicines and healers in all kinds of forms.
It's hard to wrap up a whole yoga journey in a blog and its' impossible to compare who I am now with who I would have been without it. But it's given me some very practical tools to move stuff through my body, to catch my breath when I've lost it and to meet my heart even when it's feeling tender.
Today I do feel more rooted, more able to know what I need. I also feel my heart is more open - not in an abstract way and not to everyone always - but able to share with the people close to me in a way that lets them in. Part of that rooting seems to have been buying a house and part of the heart opening has been finding a long term partner.
That's how it looks for me right now. At any moment, that could change. Life has a way of shaking things up from time to time.
When the next wave hits, whatever it may be, I know I've got my mat to meet me.
Thank you Rosa for your authenticity and rawness in sharing your journey with yoga. You can join Rosa on the mat on:
• Mondays 12.30pm, Grounding Vinyasa Flow
• Wednesdays 6pm, Vinyasa Flow
Book your spots here.